Thunder Focused on New Year’s Eve vs. Suns

For the Thunder the emphasis is always on itself and how it can execute its game plan to the best of its ability.

That mentality is as true as ever tonight as Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team goes up against the Phoenix Suns in a New Year’s Eve clash in Chesapeake Energy Arena against the Phoenix Suns. Each night the Thunder wants to turn defense into offense, staying in between their assignment and the basket, then boxing out and grabbing a rebound to start a transition opportunity. From the outset the Thunder must be in attack mode on both the offensive and defensive end.

“We have to really play aggressive,” Brooks said. “We want to continue to move the ball and fight every time down court on the defensive end.”

Within that framework of executing its own game plan, there is room, however, to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each individual opponent. As Thunder leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook help get the team geared up to play each game, it is the scouting that happens pre-game and game-planning that occurs at shoot-around that can help the team gain an advantage. When Durant and his teammates look at the Suns, point guard Goran Dragic and big men Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat stick out in particular.

“We have to all be close to the paint and tie up the paint,” Durant said. “They have a really good point guard and a really good big man that can roll to the basket. When they have those two, it opens up for the shooters that they have on the court too.”

“We can’t turn the ball over because they execute on that and capitalize on those turnovers and get easy points,” Durant continued. “We have to play a poised game throughout the whole four quarters and be conscious of every play.”

It’s not just those three who are capable scorers and threats on the offensive end. In fact, the Suns have six players who average 10 or more points per game, with three others averaging six points or more per game. One of those players is Jared Dudley, who is shooting nearly 40 percent from the three-point line this season, who the Thunder must contain from deep.

“It’s just getting out there and contesting for one,” Durant said. “We have so many long, athletic guys that can attack the roller and get out there to contest a three. Then (it’s) just running them off the line. The three point shooters, we know who they are, and we know where they’re most comfortable.”

All season long, the Thunder has done a good job of holding opponents to only 34.8 percent shooting from three. The Suns come into the game allowing a league-worst 40.4 percent shooting from behind the arc, so the differential from three-point land could be a major factor tonight.

“If we run them off the line and make them take a few dribbles, they’re not as comfortable as they are just stand still shooting,” Durant continued. “We have a really great group of coaches that get us prepared for those type of guys every single game. It’s on us to execute the game plan.”

While the Thunder is locked in and focused for the challenges the Suns pose, tonight’s game will also provide an exciting atmosphere because it is becoming a sort of Thunder tradition to host a game on New Year’s Eve. The already family friendly environment in Chesapeake Energy Arena with have an extra bit of energy as Thunder fans, players and coaches are excited to ring in the new year together.

“This is always a fun game for the fans,” Brooks said. “You come out and catch a good, exciting basketball game and then you can go out and hopefully have a fun, safe night. It’s like the Christmas Day games, these are fun games.”